Five years after the final installment of the beloved Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling has ventured in a very different direction. One week from today will see her first novel for adults, and it could not be further away from the fantasy world of Hogwarts. Being J. K. Rowling, she has let little slip about The Casual Vacancy, and the only information available is the same press release synopsis:
When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils…Pagford is not what it first seems. And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity and unexpected revelations?I'll be honest: my primary thoughts on reading this synopsis were far from hysterical cheering. A book about council elections. Huh. Could Rowling choose a duller subject? It's a brave move for her to take such a different direction, leaving behind the Potter comfort zone and abandoning the genre and target audience that has made her one of the most famous women in the world today. Now she must rely solely on her reputation for storytelling. Rowling and her publishers have kept the contents of this book as secretive as the Potter books. Although many books are embargoed from being sold ahead of their publication date, The Casual Vacancy is unusual in that it must not even be unwrapped before 8AM BST - not even a sneaky peek allowed for booksellers, on pain of the Cruciatus curse (possibly! Sorry. I was trying to avoid Potter references here.) I rather suspect that there must be more to this story than the small-town politics. Rowling has hinted that it will "shock fans" with its un-Potterish themes. I sincerely hope that she doesn't mean that The Casual Vacancy will be fitting into this year's bestselling genre!
I'm wary about the hype, although I will certainly want to get a scoop by being one of the first to read and review. Quite aside from this book launch, Thursday will be a busy day in the bookshop, so don't expect anything before Friday night at the earliest. I don't want to compare this book with Potter, and perhaps this will be easier by being set in the "real world" without magic or fantasy, but I'm sure some comparison will slip into my mind. (For some reason, I'm picturing Rowling's village Pagford as Hot Fuzz's Sandford!) I've always admired Rowling's mastery of storytelling above everything else, so I'm quite curious to see how that stands with new characters and settings. One week to go, and we'll know.